Tuesday 24 October 2017

Coughlan's form deserves Ireland call

Hugh Farrelly

JUST when you thought the lesson had been painfully learned, it was another bad week for the Irish getting above themselves.

There was the Taoiseach singing off the Barack Obama hymn sheet, karaoke-style. Then, when the American president followed up with a genuinely inspirational speech, the reaction seemed less concerned with its content than what a wonderful show the Irish had provided. No mention about the irony of Obama delivering his lines a matter of metres away from a taxi rank where many of the audience would refuse to get in the back if he were behind the wheel.

Earlier, in Moneygall, a television crew managed to locate a black woman in the crowd who was jubilantly told she was a "Michelle Obama lookalike" (apparently to the Irish, all black people look the same).

Throw in the bean-toppers booing 'God Save The Queen' before the soccer international against Northern Ireland and it adds up to another blast of Celtic Cringe when you hoped all the tracks from that offensive album had been played out.

Getting above your station is not a phenomenon confined to politics or soccer, rugby has seen its share also. From England being goaded into running the ball by David Campese in the 1991 World Cup final to the painful popinjay antics of Gavin Henson and Danny Cipriani to Eamon Ryan (where is he now?) and his pathetically populist posturing on free-to-air coverage.

The best approach to success is to keep the head down and work hard and tomorrow's Magners League final provides some salutary tales in this regard.

Joe Schmidt's perseverance and belief after a rocky start to his Leinster tenure were mirrored by his team's magical turnaround in the Heineken Cup final. Munster have earned a chance to gain just reward for a superb league campaign where they knuckled down to the less-than-glamorous fixture list, while their refusal to indulge in petulance following tangible evidence of their European decline exhibited a new-found maturity.

And, if we narrow the focus, there is no better example of the benefits of hard work, patience and perseverance than Munster's Player of the Year James Coughlan.

If you had said at the start of the season that Coughlan should be part of Ireland's World Cup squad, you would have been laughed out of it, but the 30-year-old's career is on an inexorable rise and international elevation is the next step.

True, the back-row is the most competitive area in Declan Kidney's 30-man squad. However, on the basic logic that Denis Leamy was part of Ireland's match-day panel during the Six Nations, but has been losing out to Coughlan at Munster, then the man ahead of him has to be in the frame.

Jamie Heaslip is Ireland's first-choice No 8, that fact is irrefutable, but what if something should happen the Leinster man? If Ireland are attempting to emulate their Six Nations feats against England and/or Leinster's free-flowing style, Coughlan fits the bill.

He has the footballing skills -- honed in Sevens rugby -- the speed and the right attitude and, though not the biggest No 8 in the game, it has not stopped him proving one of Munster's best forwards in the Heineken Cup -- as close to international rugby in tempo and intensity as makes damn all difference.

And that is the key. In years gone by, Coughlan was described as "a great AIL player, but that's his level" followed by "a good Magners League player, but not up to Heineken." Now, they say, he is "a good Heineken Cup player, but not international standard."

Chris Henry was capped on Ireland's summer tour against Australia and, while Henry is a fine No 8 (mistakenly played out of position at Ulster), can anyone honestly say he is any bigger or better than Coughlan?

Every time Coughlan has stepped up a level, he has prod-uced and deserves the chance to do so again. That is not to say he should be automatically chiselled into the World Cup 30, but he should be given a chance in the August warm-up games. What is there to lose? Coughlan has the capacity to 'get above himself' in the best manner possible and, as Kidney says: "Better to try and fail than not to try at all."

Irish Independent

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